MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said he won't fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque III "even if it will bring me down", as the latter faced questions on his agency's use of some P67 billion in COVID-19 funds.
The Commission on Audit said "deficiencies" in the health department's funds of some P67 billion led to "missed opportunities" to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Duterte said he would be "doing a great injustice" if he fired Duque because the latter would be dogged by insinuations of corruption for all his "lifetime."
"Maski mag-isa na lang ako, I will stand for Duque, even if it will bring me down," the President said in a taped national address that aired on Saturday.
"Sabi na pagkatapos nito, hindi na popular si Duterte, ‘yong mga rating-rating niya. Look, tapos na ako, the rating does not really matter to me. Gusto ko lang magtrabaho nang matino, and whatever judgement you have for me, I don’t give a s***."
(Even if I'm alone, I will stand for Duque, even if it will bring me down. They say after this Duterte will no longer be popular, his ratings. Look, I am done, the rating does not really matter to me. I just want to work properly and whatever judgement you have for me, I don't give a s***.)
DUTERTE TO COA: 'RECONFIGURE' YOUR REPORTS
Video courtesy of PTV
The President urged COA to include government agencies’ response in audit reports.
Addressing government auditors, he said, "Alam ko walang malisya, you are just doing your duty. But in making the report, kindly reconfigure everything."
"And sabihin sa una, at the first instance ‘pag ma-interview ka, sabihin mo na agad, ‘There is no corruption here because there is no money involved,’" he added.
(I know there is no malice, you are just doing your duty. But in making the report, kindly reconfigure everything. And say at first instance, if you are interviewed, say immediately, ‘There is no corruption here because there is no money involved.’)
"Ang totoo n’yan, ang DOH walang pera; ang pera, DBM. Kung may programa sila, ang magbayad ito. Hindi humawak si Secretary Duque ni piso," Duterte said.
"Pero the perception of the public when you are flagged, you are flogged… It’s not flagging, it’s flogging."
(The truth is, the DOH had no money; the money is with DBM. It's the one that pays if they have a program. Secretary Duque did not hold even a peso.)
He also told COA that government agencies are on skeleton workforce and manpower is needed to submit the documentation that auditors request.
"We are fighting a pandemic… They are fighting a war against an enemy na hindi natin nakikita (that is unseen). Give them enough elbow room to move," Duterte said.
"'Wag kang pumasok ngayon kasi ongoing ang barilan between the virus and the government’s vaccine. There’s a war there."
(Do not interfere now because the shootout is ongoing between the virus and the government's vaccine.)
Recalling how a COA audit had led to litigation he eventually won when he was Davao City Mayor, Duterte added, "I am not defending DOH trabaho nila ‘yan (that is their job), and we are governed by the rules. I’m not defending because they are not being accused of anything. I am just sharing my opinion."
COA is an independent body constitutionally mandated to audit public spending. It has been regularly posting its audit reports on its website for transparency.